Letters 17 June 2021

Letters 17 June 2021
Rammohun Roy and Islamic critical thought

In his seminal discourse, “Rammohun Roy’s ‘Gift’: His first published piece” (4 June 2021), Rudrangshu Mukherjee has enriched our understanding of the rational thought of Rammohun Roy, who is popularly known as the ‘Father of Modern India’. While exploring the thought of Rammohun Roy, Mukherjee focuses his attention on Rammohun’s early text, Tuhfat-ul-Muwahhiddin (1804), “an erudite tract in Persian with an introduction in Arabic”, where it was argued that “falsehood is common to all religions without distinction” (quoted from the English translation of the Arabic introduction in the text).

In Mukherjee’s reading of Tuhfat, Rammohun argued like a deist and asserted that belief in one supreme Eternal Being is “natural”, whereas belief in revelation and miracles is a product of tradition and hearsay. In answering the question, wherefrom Rammohun derived his rationalism, Mukherjee suggests the possibility “that the rationality of Tuhfat was derived from the Arabic and Persianate culture that prevailed in North India in the late-18th century and the early years of the 19th century”, but cautions that “the evidence is fragmentary and much of it circumstantial”.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s reading of Rammohun’s Tuhfat is important in the sense that it argues against the dominant paradigm of thought, which denies that Islam has a critical tradition of argumentation. The following argument offered by a scholar of Islamic thought is worth quoting in the present context: “The equation of Islam with the absence of critique has a longer genealogy in Western thought, which runs almost concurrently with Europe’s colonial expansion... In my view, the meaningful question is not about the putative absence of critique in Islam. Rather, it is about the inability of our prevalent frameworks to recognize and study the principles and practices of critique already at work in Islam”. (Irfan Ahmad, Religion as Critique: Islamic Critical Thinking from Mecca to the Marketplace, South Asian Edition, Oxford University Press, 2018)

Arup Kumar Sen, Kolkata
Women in Kerala's fertility decline

While broadly agreeing with TK Sundari in her article "Women and Contraceptive Decision-Making in Kerala" (4 June 2021), the author does not acknowledge two crucial areas of decision-making in which literate women of Kerala must have played a crucial role in the fertility decline in the state: (a) awareness about the desirability of a small family size, which was shared by the spouse; and (b) with the desired size reached, child bearing was stopped even if the first two births were girls (son preference being conspicuously absent unlike in other states of India).

Hence women's literacy did play a crucial role in bringing down fertility levels in Kerala but in a nuanced way, helping women to negotiate difficult choices of size and parity, and overcoming patriarchal norms and practices. This is not to question the need to disseminate contraceptive information in Kerala's family planning programme, even though the state has reached below replacement fertility levels.

Mridul Eapen, Thiruvananthapuram
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